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A beau­ti­ful ‘reluc­tant’ cot­tage gar­den in Som­er­set

Amateur Gardening - - News -

ACOTTAGE gar­den was never on the cards for the plot sur­round­ing Sue o’Brien’s farm­house. Her pref­er­ence has al­ways been for struc­ture, shape and form, although that’s not to say she doesn’t en­joy flow­ers too.

the gar­den, with its dif­fer­ent rooms linked by vis­tas, has been 28 years in the mak­ing. Work got un­der­way shortly after Sue and her hus­band Richard moved to Babbs Farm — parts of which date back to the ge­or­gian era.

“My start­ing point was de­cid­ing the at­mos­phere I wanted to cre­ate,” says Sue, of High­bridge in Som­er­set. “Peo­ple tell me that my gar­den is very rest­ful and re­lax­ing and that’s ex­actly what I wanted.

“I am not a cot­tage-gar­den per­son: I pre­fer struc­ture and am more in­ter­ested in the shape and form of a plant, its over­all habit and the style of its leaves. I do plant for colour, but it’s sec­ondary.

“When we moved in, there was a small gar­den here and some fields. We be­gan around the house, with its south­fac­ing walled pa­tio and patches of lawn, and moved out­wards, im­prov­ing the soil as we went.

“early on we took out a conifer hedge and huge old cy­press. I wasn’t keen on the privet hedge that was here, ei­ther, but re­alised it was a wind­break, although it’s now a dif­fer­ent shape.”

De­sign un­doubt­edly pulls the gar­den to­gether, although Sue says she’s often had to try dif­fer­ent ap­proaches be­fore her ideas come to fruition.

one ex­am­ple of this is the for­mal box parterre, with her first at­tempt not liv­ing up to her ex­pec­ta­tions.

“I tried it and it didn’t work, so it re­mained a wilder­ness for sev­eral years,” she laughs. “then we tried again in 2010, putting in 486 plants.”

An­other fea­ture is the J-shaped pond. “I wanted some­thing to com­plete the view we had from our pa­tio,” ex­plains Sue. “I saw a chelsea gar­den de­signed by chris Beard­shaw with a rill and nar­row bor­ders, and de­cided we would do it here, but it just didn’t work.

“I left it for two or three years and was go­ing to fill it in, but a friend re­flected that the gar­den was full of curves and that I should try a dif­fer­ent shape.”

In­spi­ra­tion for plant­ing schemes has come from a va­ri­ety of sources, with Beth chatto among Sue’s early gar­den­ing in­flu­ences.

“I love her plant com­bi­na­tions and have taken her ad­vice about plant­ing in threes: each group is made up of three strong plants with dif­fer­ent shapes or con­trast­ing leaves,” she ex­plains. Sue scours plant cat­a­logues for new plants, and this year she’s ex­tended her col­lec­tion of salvias and has en­joyed try­ing out dif­fer­ent echi­nanceas. She says: “Work on the gar­den never stops.”

“Peo­ple tell me my gar­den is rest­ful”

Put in place a strong struc­ture so that flow­er­ing plants re­ally stand out. Ev­er­greens such as euony­mus and pit­tospo­rum are clipped into rou­tine shapes for max­i­mum im­pact

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